“I nearly crashed attempting a high five…!”
“Q’ELLE S’AAAAAAAAA” brrrrrrrr
“Erm.. Sorry… Je ne comprende…”
brrrrr “EEEEEEEEEENGLISHHMANCHESTERUNITED!” brrrr
“Yeah. David Beckham…”
Thumpf – aw – screech – pot hole etc
I think that we have just visited the friendliest country on Earth.
Tunisia surpassed all our expectations. The countryside and coast are stunning and we were met with kind bemusement wherever we went. Everyone waved. Many people scootered alongside us (causing much confusion and several spinal complaints) and numerous people went out of their way to help us. If this wasn’t a country in which the national sport is ‘Jay Walking’ I would advise cycling through it to anyone.
We were met off the ferry by my university friend Mark who took us back to his apartment on the beach. ‘So do you think you’ll come back to England?” “Have you seen the colour of the sea here..?” Followed by hot showers (every cyclists dream), a tour of the medina and a party on the roof of “Tunisia’s prettiest village”, Sidi Bou Said (think cobbled streets, whitewashed houses, light blue window grilles and studded doors). Absolutely incredible. And all the more entertaining due to the fantastic people and the fact that the police nearly closed it down when ‘the President complained’.
An amazing start to North Africa. Over the weekend we then proceeded to kite surf, eat delicious pastries and nearly get ourselves killed in a freak kayaking incident.
Note: It is best to avoid kayaking to a nearby island when you see a storm coming. In particular try not to do this when one of you is not actually in a kayak but holding on to one, lying on a surf board. If – however – you do do this, then try not to be blown several miles from the town onto a beach where there is little more than an old Tunisian man, rather shocked to find a blond English woman wash up in a bikini…. Having said that, he was wonderful, though my best mime work didn’t result in much of a rescue party for the guys. (He ran off to bring back a phone and someone who spoke French – by which time they had actually washed in too – Jamie was no longer hanging on to the back of Mark’s kayak but bobbed in a few moments later. “Great that you let go to swim before I hit the rocks.” “I didn’t! I had cramp and fell off…”) It was dramatic. Mark ran off for help while we carried the kayaks to the road. An old lady saw us in the cold, turned her car around and gave us the shawl from her back. As I said. Lovely people.
Anyway, after a weekend which felt much like a holiday (if not a particularly relaxing one) it was back on the bikes. We were hoping to visit a wind farm in Tunisia but were sadly unable. That wasn’t to mean, however, we were to be disappointed by a lack of wind!
Leaving Tunis we headed straight into head on gusts. Exhausted from the previous day’s exertions, it was an epic endeavour. Especially when Jamie then got a puncture. Once again, though, the generous spirit of the Tunisian people came into play. A motorbike stopped to give us a foot pump. We sidled into a nearby cafe and were given our fill of fresh fruit and I was – rather more intriguingly – presented with a faded blue plastic dinosaur. ( I have affixed him to the front of the bike and named him Lance.)
After that, our fortunes began to change. The wind turned and we were helped along the coast. It was our first full 100 mile day (or 99.88 according to Iain’s bike computer) and we headed straight through the narrow streets of the Sousse medina like we were in a James Bond chase. Brilliant!
Following Sousse it was down to Sfax, again, wind against and a long slog in the hot sun. Crossing inland was worth every difficult pedal, though, when we saw the El Djem colloseum in the distance. It is incredible. Built in the days when the romans ruled and the land was fertile, it is now in the middle of nowhere and visable in the barren landscape for several – very long and sweaty – miles. According to a helpful gentlemen while we were having lunch, it has tunnels to the sea, around 40km away, so that when it was seiged the inhabitants could recieve fresh produce with which to taunt their captors. It was almost deserted. We explored the tunnels the slaves walked, sat in the stalls watching the security guards have a snooze and pretended to be gladiators. Eat your heart out Russell Crowe.
Then there was a thunderstorm.
The weather here is mayhem. It was good though. Beating winds, lightening and pounding rain, at least a distraction from the dusty heat!
We didn’t linger in Sfax long as we were off at dawn the next day to Gabes to take a day off meandering the Star Wars film set and the picturesque hillside region of Matmata.
Or so we thought….
“The Libyans” – as Timmy and Monty Python would decry – had other ideas.
It is notoriously tricky to get into Libya. You can not get in unless you have a tour. You can not get in unless your passport is translated into Arabic. You can not get in if you are not in a group of 4. As of the 1st June (and they did not tell anyone till the 2nd June) you can not get your visa at the border…. we were entering on the 6th June. Ar*e!
We had cycled 1115 miles. It was not an option to go back. Calls were made to the British Embassy, the Libyan Embassy, the Libyan border police. Mark even went to the Libyan Embassy on our behalf (once again, his generosity unparalled). It wasn’t looking good. Hasty plans were hatched. “We could hire a fishing boat and sail round…” “Why don’t we head north to Italy and work round the Med that way..” “I could cling to someones leg wailing till they let us in…”
In the end a solution emerged. We could pick up visa’s at the Libyan consulate in Sfax. We just had to get them first thing in the morning. There was no possibility of cycling back in time. The train left in 10 minutes. ‘RUN!!!”
So we made it back to Sfax, had dinner in a restaurant / brothel. “Oh look, there are other ladies drinking..” “Well, they are ladies Suse but I think they might be ladies….” “Ahhhh” and eventually after several heart stopping minutes we got our visas.
We were back on.
And back on the bikes.
Although now a day behind (and without walking the hallowed ground of Obi Wan Kenobi) we had to hot foot it to the border. This time, inland.
Inland, it seems, is a little warm…
Along the coast we had the benefit of a breeze from the sea. Inland there was also wind. Just wind that had come a long way across the Sahara. Jamie began to melt.
I hate the wind (it feels like going uphill all day), Iain hates too many hours in the saddle but we hadn’t, until now, found Jamie’s weakness.
After stopping a couple of times on the roadside (small stalls complete with camel head territory) we eventually made it across the barren landscape to Medenine. We dripped into a restaurant as the first sand storm hit (well the guys did – I glowed slightly). It was to be a long afternoon. And reaching Ben Guardane was not much of a relief. It is fairly dirty town with lots of oil and goods being sold, as well as shady deals taking place in dingy cafes and along the roadside. I trialed imagining we were in the Wild West. It didn’t work.
After a flee bitten night it was a 4.30am start to make the last 33k to Libya and the moment of truth.
Would they let us in…
(Ok, ok – technically you have probably guessed the answer to the cliff hanger but hey – artistic license and all that!)
Anyway, hope that all is well at home. Have finally had a day of rest that actually includes rest and so have been writing up our solar travails as well. All to come in the next exciting installment!
See you then x